Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Home Sweet Home

If you live in the SF Bay Area, a question that you always have to ask yourself is: should I keep living here? The problem? It's the money, of course: Could a More Affordable Life Away From the Bay Area Actually Be Better?

For at least a couple of years now, my wife and I have been rehearsing a break-up conversation with the Bay Area. As much as we love it here, we're just not sure if it will ever work out.

A lot of our uncertainty revolves around money, and our realization that we can't afford to buy a home here. That fact, rightly or wrongly, has become a touchstone for other uncertainties -- about finding a neighborhood we can stay in for the long term; about having good school options for our two-year-old daughter; about making enough money to afford the high cost of living without giving all of our waking hours over to work.

That, in a nutshell, is almost everything wrong with the Bay Area. I don't mind living among a bunch of dippy progressives. I don't care if everyday is gay pride day. I don't even care if many of the people you meet, at all levels of society, have mental health or substance abuse issues. But, the expense of living in the Bay Area is such that many people find it difficult to live a comfortable middle class existence. How odd, since there are so many people here who profess to be concerned about the "vanishing middle class." Don't you believe it. A lot (but not all) of the Bay Area premium is a direct result of the liberal/progressive mind-set that dominates the political and economic life of the region. We have open space and no-growth rules that keep new construction to a minimum. We have rent control in San Francisco, which has left the rental housing stock in mediocre-to-lousy condition. And so on.

The Bay Area's housing market is famously expensive. That's partly because people are willing to pay a premium to live here. But it's also because it's damn hard to build new housing anywhere near where you would want to live. Oh, there's plenty of old housing, but then you have to ask yourself, "Do I want to pay $700,000 to buy a 1200 square foot house?" Especially when you will likely have to spend plenty of quality time in your car waiting to cross the Bay Bridge? And send your kids to private school? At a certain point, you have to wonder whether it is worth it.

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